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Fashion meets its match: How creative collaboration can enhance brand positioning

Brand collaborations are all the rage. Joining forces in fashion or accessories is the way forward and can create a win for both brands – if you choose the right partner and create synergies that make sense.

Markus Reckling is an ideas man. Aside from his busy job as Managing Director of DHL Express Germany, barely a week goes by when he hasn’t got a creative initiative on his agenda – be that a virtual summer BBQ to cheer up his teams amid Covid-19 restrictions last year or going all out for Breast Cancer Awareness – pink cake pops included.

One of his favorite creative outlets is managing collaborations that play on the strength of the DHL brand.

“I think our brand, with its yellow and red signature colors, is iconic, and on that basis we teamed up with a number of partners in fashion and accessories,” says Markus Reckling. Collaborative ventures he initiated include a limited edition DHL sneaker as well as a personalized aviation tag made from the skin of DHL aircraft. The newest one is a limited edition collaboration with German fashion start-up Grubenhelden, consisting of a t-shirt and a zip-up hoodie that stylishly combines the key elements of both companies’ brand identities.

Markus Reckling (L), Managing Director at DHL Express and Matthias Bohm (R), Founder of Grubenhelden

No item is created without careful consideration of how to include the DHL brand. “It’s got to make sense,” comments Reckling, who can often be seen sporting DHL items even away from the office.  “For example, the DHL sneaker created by cutting-edge designer Hikmet Sugoer includes material from DHL ‘Red Bags’ that we use during Express shipping as well as a tag made of the skin of a cargo plane.” 

“Our company has 50 years of heritage to draw on,” he adds, “as well as core activities and values that we stand for, such as speed, as symbolized by our aircraft, and a commitment to sustainability, which is why we often aim to include recycled materials and also team up with brands whose values are aligned with ours.”

The latest collaboration with Grubenhelden highlights this point. Like DHL, Grubenhelden founder Matthias Bohm and his team believe in a sustainable approach. At first glance, the two companies could not be more different.

On the one hand, there is the global player and market leader in the international express logistics business. On the other hand, there is the regionally rooted fashion startup, whose streetwear brand pays homage to the heritage and mining tradition of Germany’s “rust belt,” the Ruhr region. After all, there is no Grubenhelden clothing without the typical blue and white striped original fabric of traditional coal miners' shirts.

"When Grubenhelden came to us with the idea of collaborating on a streetwear collection, we said ‘yes’ straight away, because we know that we stand for the same values," says Reckling. 

Last summer, the first collaboration on facial masks, made out of the material of DHL’s couriers’ polo shirts, resulted in a campaign for equal opportunities, diversity and solidarity. "We at DHL Express understand diversity and equal opportunity as core values and exploit their full potential. That makes us so successful," adds Reckling. Grubenhelden is also committed to diversity and against any form of discrimination, which is reflected, for example, in their own "For all Colors" fashion collection. "We also have the same goals when it comes to sustainability,” says Reckling. “This is the basis for our current collaboration. For us, it is not the first collaboration in the fashion sector but definitely the most sustainable." From day one, Grubenhelden has been committed to avoiding plastics, reducing waste and producing as few emissions as possible – a goal that DHL Express is also pursuing with the GoGreen environmental protection plan, including the Mission 2050 in which all logistics-related emissions are to be reduced to zero.

“If you select a partnership carefully, you can create lasting success for both brands. Our DHL 1 Sneaker sold out in record time and is now a prized collector’s item. Meanwhile the personalized aviation tags have been in such demand that we’ve launched a second collection. When the partnership makes sense, it’s a win all round,” concludes Reckling.

DHL 1 Sneaker

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of DHL Express, sneaker designer icon Hikmet Sugoer created the limited edition DHL 1 Sneaker, which was sold exclusively on Special features included a toe cap made of recycled DHL "Red Bags" that are usually used for shipping. The tag was made from the metal skin of a 33-year-old Boeing 757 cargo plane. 300 pairs were produced, costing 300 euros each. The purchasing right was raffled at and the sold-out sneakers are a highly prized collector’s item today.

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Limited Aviationtag® edition

Debuted in 2019 to celebrate DHL’s 50th birthday, the limited edition DHL Aviationtag® by bordbar® is now in its 2nd edition. DHL Express’ retired Boeing 757 with the registration D-ALEK was in service for 15 years before 10,000 Aviationtags® were created from the fuselage of the freighter. This involved parts of the outer skin of the retired aircraft being dismantled and cut to size at the bordbar® manufactory in Cologne, Germany, before they were punched into the typical Aviationtag® shape and then polished, finally undergoing precise laser engraving.

Each of the strictly limited-edition Aviationtags now feature the aircraft type, aircraft registration number, edition number, edition size and, of course, the DHL logo. The limited edition can be purchased online:

Published: April 2021

Images: DHL

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